Screen Time: Family Friend Or Foe?


Oh “screen time.” Every family has a love/hate relationship with you. Sometimes you provide my kids with age-appropriate activity, fun and learning. And sometimes you hold them hostage.

Managing the amount of time kids spend on the computer and in front of the TV is an on-going issue for most families. My strategies have changed over the years. When the children were small, we had “Screenless Sundays.”

When they got older and screen-obsessed, I banned screens during the week entirely. I didn’t find that arrangement worked very well for us. By the time the weekend rolled around, they would screen binge. They were like those kids who are never given candy, so they sneak away and stuff their faces. Mine were stuffing their virtual faces with Minecraft.

I started a new plan, and I have to say – it’s working! It’s really working! Here’s the deal in our house:

  • A child can earn up to one hour of screen time a day that can be cashed in between 6:00pm and 8:00pm.
  • They earn screen time by doing the following activities: homework, reading, walking the dog, practicing an instrument, playing outside.
  • Earned time and screen time match. So if a child wants a full hour of screen time, they will have walked the dog for 15 minutes, practiced piano for 15 minutes and spent a half an hour reading. If they only do one of these activities for 10 minutes, they get 10 minutes of screen time.
  • Screen time must be “meaningful”. What is meaningful? I decide that. For my kids, it means using the computer to play Minecraft, Spore or Animal Jam. I don’t count watching YouTube videos of other people playing Minecraft as meaningful. Each parent can define “meaningful” as they see fit.
  • I don’t include TV as “screen time”, but TV can only be watched if homework is done. Since TV is not an activity that earns them screen time, it’s not very attractive.
  • Children must self-monitor their time. If I catch them cheating, the privilege is pulled and they lose screens for the week.
  • If they have hockey or another activity during the 6:00pm – 8:00pm screen cash in time, they don’t get screens that day.

So far, so good.  How do you manage the beast at your home? Got any great tips you can share?



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